Ever wondered what Boris Johnson cooks for dinner at Number 10 when he’s not ordering gourmet ready meals or popping in to lockdown-violating work parties? Or what former Tory health minister Edwina Currie puts in her “passion cake”? Wonder no more, because the Conservative Party’s official cookbook Corridors of Flour is here to answer those questions.
In 2021, the Tories put out their first cookbook in 30 years – their last foray into recipe writing being the 1988 True Blue Cookery Book – and I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy. Inside, the 50 recipes from various ex-prime ministers, politicians and campaigners promise to “get you turning on the hob and heating up the oven”. There’s Theresa May’s scones; a “Gibraltar gazpacho” from Crawley MP Henry Smith, illustrated by a blurry photo of the Rock of Gibraltar and nothing else; and a vegetarian lasagne from Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen – again, no photo, just an extreme close-up of a can of tinned tomatoes.
The recipes are divided into savoury and sweet, but towards the end of the cookbook it simply gives up – a later section is called “Cooking Up Some History”, which reuses recipes from True Blue, like Denis Thatcher's salmon fishcakes and Ted Heath’s pumpkin pie. It’s also littered with spelling errors (“leaks” instead of “leeks”, “flower” rather than “flour”) and almost every recipe photo looks like it’s been shot on the first-generation Sony Ericsson mobile phone. The signature scribbly Conservative oak tree logo makes an appearance on every other page to really hammer home that you, a lowly peasant member of the public, can cook and eat just like a Tory.
Naturally, I did what any brave/curious/dumb (delete as appropriate) food writer would do: I hosted a three-course Tory dinner party with some willing friends and cooked four recipes from the book.
Antipasti: Boris Johnson’s Recipe for Cheese on Toast
The introduction of the book states: “It’s probably the only time in history a snack has been personally approved by the Prime Minister”. Judging by the image of Boris’s head seemingly photoshopped onto someone else’s body in an apron that reads “Commonwealth Big Lunches”, I am pretty certain that BoJo had nothing to do with this recipe.
Johnson’s recipe isn’t really a recipe at all, as it confusingly contains no indication of specific ingredients, measurements or timings. I try my best to follow along – you can’t really go wrong with cheese on toast, can you? (Unless, of course, you’re Gordon Ramsay, who manages to both burn the bread and not melt the cheese in his “Ultimate Grilled Cheese” recipe.)
I pop some slices of brown bread into the toaster and cut a mountain of Cheddar cheese. The next step instructs me to “spread toast with butter and chutney”, but doesn’t specify the chutney. Mango? Tomato? Or Branston, the proper British classic? I use what I have at my disposal and settle on sweet onion chutney.
The recipe explains: “Grill until it gets nice and golden. For best results keep grilling until the edges of cheese have turned brown and perforated and are faintly scabby in appearance and texture.” I don’t know about you, but I love appetisingly describing my food as scabby.
The last step in the recipe explains to “eat quickly before you’re caught”. Caught doing what, exactly? Hiding in a fridge to avoid questions on live TV? Infidelity? Attending multiple Christmas parties at the height of lockdown? Asking Tory donors to foot the bill of your Lulu Lytle home reno?
The recipe itself is inoffensive and tastes pretty decent – after all, it’s cheese on toast. I did find it odd to butter the bread and add chutney before you grill. I would’ve preferred to have the chutney cold or on the side as a dip, but no matter, we move.
Starter: David Cameron’s Recipe for Italian Sausage Meat Pasta
Former PM David Cameron claims that this is a simplified twist on an old classic inspired by the River Café cookbook and is one of his family’s favourites. While the photo of the recipe does appear to be David Cameron’s head firmly attached to his own body, he is pictured putting something in the oven. Confusingly, this recipe doesn’t involve an oven at all, so my guess is Cameron also had nothing to do with this recipe.
I actually had the original River Cafe recipe mentioned on hand to compare this to – the longstanding Italian restaurant in Hammersmith uses a carrot, celery and onion (soffrito) base, which is the holy trinity combo for creating a rich, caramelised and umami base for sauces, soups and stews. Obviously, this being Cameron’s version, Corridors of Flour skips all of that good stuff.
Red onions are bafflingly used instead of yellow or white (the former is best eaten raw or pickled in salads – when cooked, they’re too mild and get lost in the dish). Criminally, there’s also no mention of garlic in this recipe, but I must remember I am cooking and thinking like a Tory, which means being deprived of any joy and glorifying the delicious old days of the Blitz, when you had to ration things like “flavour”, “taste” and “happiness”.
Cooking down and browning the onions and sausage meat was all well and good, but the recipe doesn’t indicate how long to reduce the wine and plum tomatoes for. Instead, it simply instructs me to “reduce the sauce, as with Bolognese”, but what if you’ve never cooked a Bolognese? Again, I wing it and go with my gut.
I also have to go against every fibre in my body not to season anything because the recipe doesn’t advise me to, and my eye twitches with stress as I stand there watching the sauce simmer down to a bland blob. The only seasoning David Cameron uses is a splash of red wine, Parmesan and – any Italians reading this, please cover your eyes – half a pint of double cream.
The recipe isn’t bad, but it isn’t particularly good either. Thanks to the cream overkill, it tastes too heavy and dense – I can feel my arteries clog a little with every flavourless bite. If I had my way I would've taken out the cream and added garlic, basil, a Parmesan rind and seasoned it to fuck. This was crying out for white or yellow onions and it so desperately needed that extra zing. Much like Cameron’s prime ministership, IMO!
Main: Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond’s Recipe for Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Chicken Mousse
It’s on to the main event, and the one I’m most terrified of. Hammond’s recipe involves flattening a chicken breast, spreading a crème fraîche, chicken and bacon mousse filling in the middle, and then rolling it out into sausages and poaching.
Judging by the photo, the anaemic chicken looks like it’s been ready to give me and my guests salmonella since the day it hatched. After two years of living with a deadly virus, I’ll be extremely annoyed if I am felled by a cursed two-page recipe that features the same photo on both sides, only zoomed in to make it look even worse.
I start by bashing four pieces of chicken breasts between two pieces of parchment paper to flatten out with a rolling pin (a good Tory recipe to take your anger out on that dastardly NHS, which still, against all your party’s efforts, remains un-privatised). Next, I work on the filling and cook shallots in a pan before adding this to a food processor with a diced chicken thigh, egg white, bacon, fresh white breadcrumbs and a dollop of crème fraîche.
Then I spread the blitzed sticky pink filling lengthways in the centre of each flattened breast and roll the raw meat in cling film into a secure sausage shape. It looks like an alien finger or a deformed Frankenstein chode (I will undoubtedly have nightmares about these sausages for days). I wrap them in foil for double protection – the recipe doesn’t instruct me to do this, but I fear they will melt or explode otherwise – and then I lightly poach them in a pot of simmering hot water for 18-20 minutes while I work on the sauce.
The sliced mushrooms and shallots are cooked down and more double cream added (please, no more cream). Inspired by David Cameron, I add a bottle of a white Australian supermarket Chardonnay called Squealing Pig to the sauce and let it reduce. Once it’s time to plate up, I cut the chicken-ception log and serve with roast potatoes and broccoli.
My mate notes that this dish seems very dated and would’ve preferred the chicken to be roasted instead of poached. In all fairness, the meat is tender and moist, but the whole thing tastes one-note. If the chicken hadn’t been filled with its own legs and had more of a contrasting flavour like duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms, shallots and herbs), a bright green pesto or sun dried tomatoes and Prosciutto, it might’ve tasted plausible. I’m not angry, just disappointed.
Dessert: Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden’s Recipe for Jammy Steamed Pudding
I’d like to apologise for what you’re about to read, but the photo in this recipe is just a jam splat that looks like a lumpy smear of period blood, positioned next to a terrified-looking Oliver Dowden with a mixing bowl. This somewhat taints the recipe even before I’ve had a crack at it.
On the plus side, I will say that this pudding recipe is the most coherent and easy to follow out of the lot. The only qualm is that it contains flour, butter and 175g of sugar, which is a helluva a lot, so it’s going to be a big, heavy dense boy. I mix all the ingredients into a smooth batter, fill the bowl with an obscene amount of jam and wrap it in foil. Two hours of steaming later, it’s time for the moment of truth: I flip and turn it out onto a plate.
I manage to keep the pudding still intact but I have created a bleeding millennium dome monster. It looks terrifying. The recipe suggests serving it with custard, ice cream or – you guessed it – more double cream. For the sake of my poor arteries, I eat this plain.
Appearance aside, this actually tasted pretty good. It reminded my dinner guests of a school canteen pudding, and maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but the sponge was also surprisingly airy and soft. The real downfall was the tsunami of incredibly sweet liquid raspberry jam that instantly made everyone’s teeth hurt. If I wanted to get off my tits on sugar at 11PM on a Sunday night, I’d just mainline a kilo bag of demerara.
My guests and I agreed that dessert, minus the mountain of jam, tasted the best out of all the dishes. But – Oliver Dowden, please take note if you’re reading – the sponge could’ve been vastly improved upon if more flavours were added to the mix, like some poppy seeds, orange zest or vanilla extract.
All in all, the recipes weren’t inedible and I didn’t get food poisoning, which I count as a success, but it’s doubtful I’ll be calling any of these a firm favourite or returning to them any time soon – mainly because I still got indigestion from the gout-level richness and felt a little queasy from the cream overload. Maybe I should just stick to serving cheese and wine at my next Tory dinner party. Less washing up, after all.